On June 9, Indian Army special forces teams raided camps of the NSCN(K) and the PLA in Myanmar. This first-of-a-kind strike in recent years, illustrates how special forces are best utilised. Lightning intelligence based thrusts to achieve specific objectives. With the prospects of a full-scale conventional war receding intelligence-based operations like Myanmar are likely to be the norm. In recent years, special forces operators have found their skill sets being utilised in Humanitarian and Disaster Relief and other-than-war situations. During the Uttarakhand floods last year, Army commandos created rough helipads to rescue stricken pilgrims.
The Navy’s Marine commandos (MARCOS) have been deployed on board warships in the Gulf of Aden since 2008 to protect merchant ships from Somali pirates, a task different from their wartime duties. But what happens when these commandos have to operate together?
The MARCOS were the first to enter the Taj Hotel in Mumbai on the night of November 26, 2008. Their heroic intervention saved the lives of more than 100 guests hiding in The Chambers. Yet these 24 commandos did not join the National Security Guards as they rescued hostages and hunted terrorists. The NSG unit had one simple reason for keeping the MARCOS out. The two forces had never trained or operated together and followed different drills. These otherwise innocuous reasons could make the difference between life and death in a firefight. India’s 4,800-man special forces continue to function in silos within the three services. This is not counting the home ministry’s gigantic 10,000-strong NSG, the R&AW’s Special Frontier Force (SFF) and Special Group. These forces share neither equipment, training or facilities.
The armed forces have been aware of this duplication of resources. In 2002, Army headquarters proposed a new Special Operations Command (SOCOM) that would integrate all special forces. The command would be headed by a Lt General reporting to the Chairman Chiefs of Staff committee and, eventually, to the chief of Defence Staff. The proposal went into cold storage but was revived in 2011, when it was proposed by the Naresh Chandra committee on internal security. The three services concurred and decided to create a SOCOM. This joint command would not only have integrated training facilities and a common pool of equipment and dedicated transport aircraft. The Army and Navy commandos currently depend on the air force transport aircraft to fly them into the scene of action. This would be eliminated in an organisation with its own dedicated air wing and specially trained pilots.
This proposal has languished before the Cabinet Committee on Security since 2013. It is not that the government does not know how critical the requirement is. Addressing the combined commanders conference last October, Prime Minister Modi noted that full scale wars would become rare but that future security challenges "will be less predictable, situations will evolve and change swiftly".
The challenges that the PM outlined would make a special operations command an urgent requirement. There are indications that this government, more than any previous one, plans to use special operations. In the light of this, the delay in approving a special operations command, is baffling.